Commission Chairman Ken Hagan pushed his fellow commissioners very hard to get this approved. This was the crown jewel of his career as a commissioner. It was easy to see from his demeanor that he would not accept any pushback from his colleagues. He wanted it accepted and lauded as the best thing since Ponce de Leon's discovery of the Fountain of Youth. His resume needed beefing up and, by God, they better help him. $6M was a piddling amount to spend, especially when you consider the doors it might open for future political races.
When respected business people and regular citizens stepped forward to object at the initial meeting on Dec 5, 2012, the commission decided they wanted more time before approving so they could look conciliatory and circumspect. The approval was slam dunked on Feb 20, 2013 with Commissioner Beckner being the only one questioning the sales pitch by Hagan. Hagan got what he wanted but left the general public with a bunch of unanswered questions. Beyond the hyped up numbers and puffery, what else is in store for us?
Here's some things that defy logic and need some explanation:
Question #1= The Questionable Talking Point-"The roads being upgraded will benefit the general public and really need to be done".
The roads we're paying to upgrade have little traffic today, however, the major roads that everyone will take to get to that mall, such as SR60, are currently a traffic nightmare and will be an absolute disaster if any additional traffic is added. There is no money to expand SR60 and according to county planners it has reached its maximum in terms of capacity in the Brandon area. Hagan, being purposefully myopic, forgot to mention that.
Question #2= Talking Point needs further clarification-"Bass Pro will draw customers from all of Hillsborough, as well as, many other counties and beyond".
That premise is problematic because it is doubtful that people will travel near and far to sit in traffic on SR60. They may come once but won't come back after they experience Miami type traffic as they get close to the new mall. The major local roadways in that area are failing and were not factored in. Hagan forgot to address that.
Question #3= Talking point needs further clarification-"Bass Pro would have gone to Pasco County if we didn't provide the $6.25M subsidy".
The fact is that Bass Pro already met with Pasco County and they were offered a site in Wiregrass but no subsidies. They overwhelmingly preferred the Brandon site as indicated by their representative at the Feb 20th BOCC meeting, when questioned by Commissioner Beckner. Bass Pro had announced their plan to open the Brandon store officially on their website on November 30, 2012, so it was a bluff made of fluff. Hagan knew that Bass Pro didn't have a viable alternative, but continued to say they would go elsewhere if they didn't receive the Giveaway.
Question #4= Hagan said at the Feb 20 meeting, "Addressing infrastructure in advance of development is what smart planning is all about."
Hmmmm, that 's interesting coming from a commissioner that has helped create the largest deficit in infrastructure funding by approving growth the whole time he's been in office without securing adequate funding for the impacts to our roads and transportation. Our transportation plan is now $15B+ underfunded according to the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, and the deficit grows each year by leaps and bounds because we charge developers only a fraction of what the true impact fees should be. Our own Economic Development department admits that taxpayers end up subsidizing almost all growth. Former Economic Dev Director Gene Grey used to say that for every $1 in new tax revenue generated by growth, it costs the county $1.50 to provide the vital services that are required. The deficits keep growing and needs go unfunded. And when Hagan talks about how revenues will grow when a new mall is built he forgets to mention that the cost of providing all essential services offsets those gains substantially, not to mention the negative impacts on quality of life. We should be asking ourselves, do we need yet another mall right next to the one that's already there? Hagan and the commission won't ask that question because they believe that new malls trump all other needs.
When Commissioner Beckner objected to providing handouts to a well funded mega-retailer like Bass Pro, Hagan angrily told him (and us) to get used to it, because it's going to happen all the time, going forward. If developers don't pay anything toward the impacts to infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, safety services, etc) then the burden will shift entirely to the taxpayer. There's no way we can afford to do that without increasing taxes substantially or our roads will continue to deteriorate and our traffic problems will mushroom as we grow. But wait a minute, Hagan is supposed to be a fiscal conservative. Isn't that what he said when he was campaigning? He needs to explain why he thinks paying for private development that will force us to raise taxes is such a good idea.
Question #5=Did Will Bissett really represent the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP) Advisory Committee when he appeared at the BOCC meeting and endorsed the Bass Pro Giveaway?
It now comes to light that Mr. Bissett didn't officially represent ELAPP when he gave his endorsement. He basically spoke out of turn. He should have explained that he was expressing his personal opinion, instead of implying that he represented his entire organization. As a result, ELAPP now has to find out how Mr Bissett could speak with authority while many committee members never voted on an endorsement. Hagan and his Bass Pro's lobbyists need to apologize for this misleading representation.
Question #6= The general public was against the Giveaway, as per the Tampa Trib poll (60% voted NO).
So were most small businesses. Doesn't the public's opinion matter?
The BOCC ignored what the majority wanted. Hagan needs to explain why the majority didn't matter.
Question #7= Can someone please buy Commissioner Higginbotham a ticket to the next Honesty Is The Best Policy Seminar?
Leading up to the Feb 20th meeting, the press kept asking Higginbotham if had already decided to approve the Bass Pro Giveaway. He continued to deny it. In spite of those denials he continued to lobby anyone who would listen. He met with Shoot Straight Gun Store owners, he asked to meet with the family that owns Arrowhead Archery/Seffner (they told him they would not support the Giveaway and refused to meet with him), and he and Vin Marchetti, Bass Pro's legal representative, lobbied the South Shore Anglers Club for support.
“Be bad, but at least don't be a liar, a deceiver!” ― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Question #8= Has Hagan committed to selling time-shares for Bass Pro?
Nature's Health Foods (Brandon) employee, Beverly Valdez, tells the story of how her family went to Bass Pro/Orlando recently and was accosted inside the store. She said that time-share hawkers were inside the store at strategic locations and were very aggressive. Her family politely asked the hawker to leave them alone but he wouldn't budge and followed them around the store. She said it took almost 30 minutes to shake the hawker. I happened to be in Orlando this weekend and decided to visit Bass Pro and check it out. Upon approaching the huge fish tank and waterfall that happens to be the centerpiece of the store, I was stalked myself. Jessie, one of the Bass Pro time-share hawkers, told me that all of the Bass Pro stores sell time shares. He told me the nicest thing I could do for my wife would be to surprise her with a time-share. Really? He continued to hammer me for about 20 minutes. I told him I needed to go to the bathroom but it looked like he was going to follow me and flush the toilet for me, so I told him I needed to leave the store after I relieved myself. I broke free and quickly left the store before being accosted again.
When Hagan said we were getting a "destination retailer" I didn't realize that meant that the retailer was going to sell shoppers a "destination" in the form of a time-share. Get ready, Brandon shoppers. You're not only going to be able to shop for all of your hunting gear, you'll also get to feel what it's like to be hunted by a time-share hawker following you to your car.
Bass Pro is no doubt making a bundle from the time-share gambit inside all of their stores. Could Hagan's next move be to have the county partner with Bass Pro in a time-share marketing venture? Hillsborough might be able to turn some of our ghost town subdivisions and shopping centers into time-share destinations and turn a profit. Maybe the BOCC will invite all county employees to attend a time-share presentation as part of a new employee benefit.
Did we get more than we bargained for? In a sense we did. We got a lot more questions than we did answers. Now all we need is for the six hungry fish (Commissioners Crist, Hagan, Higginbotham, Miller, Murman and Sharpe) that took the bait to tell the complete story.
Artwork credit: Shawn (firstname.lastname@example.org)